Ministry of Justice
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Witness anonymity - emergency legislation introduced
Witnesses who fear for their safety will continue to be given every possible protection, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said today as he presented emergency legislation to Parliament.
The Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Bill will restore a trial judge's power to grant a witness anonymity order, after the House of Lords ruled that legislation was needed to allow the practice to continue.
Speaking after publication of the Bill, Mr Straw said:
"Allowing witnesses to give evidence anonymously has played a vital role in bringing the most violent criminals to justice and it must continue to do so. It has also been essential to act so swiftly so as not to leave a gap in the public and victims' protection against serious crime.
"This Bill has been carefully drafted to take full account of the Lords' judgment."
The legislation will allow courts to hear evidence anonymously where witnesses are fearful of the consequences of being identified. However it will not compromise a defendant's right to a fair trial.
Before this ruling, courts had developed careful and proportionate measures by which the trial judge could order that evidence be given in such a way that the identification of certain key prosecution or defence witnesses was disguised.
The legislation Jack Straw announced today will prevent those found guilty based on the testimony of anonymous witnesses from having their convictions quashed, and will ensure that anonymity can, where applicable, continue to be granted to witnesses in the future.
The Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity Bill) will:
* Clarify the circumstances in which a witness anonymity order can be given to granted;
* Set out the procedure for courts to follow in ongoing trials which involve testimony by anonymous witnesses;
* Ensure that those convicted on the basis of anonymous evidence cannot have their conviction quashed solely on the grounds that anonymity was granted.